20 September 2013
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome to the briefing.


** Mexico


I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Mexico on Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel.


The Secretary-General is saddened by the loss of life in Mexico, and the damage to homes and infrastructure caused by Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel since 17 September.  Some 1.2 million people have been affected and a state of emergency has been declared in hundreds of municipalities along the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Coast, as further severe storms are expected.


The Secretary-General extends his sincere condolences to the Mexican Government and people, particularly the families of those who have been killed.  He extends his solidarity to all those affected in this disaster.  The United Nations stands ready to lend its assistance to efforts to respond to humanitarian needs resulting from the disaster and to mobilize any international support needed.


I can tell you the statement is also available in Spanish, and both the English and Spanish texts are being distributed right now.


**Global Compact


First thing this morning, the Secretary-General opened the United Nations Global Compact Leaders Summit.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General called on business leaders to be “architects of a sustainable future” and to work for the common good.


He said that nobody can benefit from catastrophic climate change or rampant unemployment and the social unrest that comes with it.  He said that the private sector’s role is integral in shaping a new, legal climate agreement and achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.  He also said that women’s empowerment is central to stable, progressive societies.  And the text of his remarks and other engagements that he will have with the business leaders will be available online.


** Afghanistan


The Deputy Secretary-General spoke at a meeting today of the International Contact Group on Afghanistan, telling the Group that, during his recent visit to the country, he repeatedly heard the need to preserve the gains of the last decade.


He noted the challenges that Afghanistan faces, including next year’s elections, security and reconciliation.  And he said that the United Nations is committed to a long-term partnership with Afghanistan, in line with the wishes of the Government and the people of Afghanistan.


This afternoon at 4:45 p.m., there will be a press conference on the International Contact Group meeting with a number of speakers, including the Chairman of the International Contact Group and the Special Representative of the United States to Afghanistan and Pakistan; the Deputy Foreign Minister of Afghanistan; and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ján Kubiš.


** Iran


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has warmly welcomed the release in Iran earlier this week of Nasrin Sotoudeh, and 11 other political prisoners, including a number of women’s rights activists, political activists and journalists.  She also called upon the Iranian Government to remove any restrictions placed on Ms. Sotoudeh’s travel and to rescind the ban on her practising as a lawyer.


The High Commissioner also welcomes the recent news that the death sentence imposed on the Iranian blogger Saeed Malekpour has been overturned.  She encourages the Government to release all those held for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and association.


You will recall that the Secretary-General met yesterday with Jawad Zarif, the Foreign Minister of Iran.  In their discussion, the Secretary-General welcomed the release by the Iranian Government of a number of political prisoners, including Ms. Sotoudeh.  And he expressed the hope that the Government will continue to take steps to fulfil the promises made by President [Hassan] Rouhani during his recent election campaign.


** Sri Lanka


The UN human rights office has sent a formal complaint to the Government of Sri Lanka regarding widely reported comments that, during her recent meeting with the country’s President, the High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, requested the removal of the statue of Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister from Colombo’s Independence Square.  In a letter sent last week, Ms. Pillay’s office requested an immediate retraction and public correction of this misinformation.  And there’s more information available on this topic on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).


** Central African Republic


The UN refugee agency said today that new fighting has sparked fresh displacement this week in the north-west of the Central African Republic.  The UN agency said that heavy clashes were reported from last Saturday to Tuesday between unidentified armed groups in and around the towns of Bossembele and Bossangoa.  The fighting appears to have subsided in the area, but the situation remains very tense.


Also, the World Food Programme (WFP) said today that it is committed to increasing food assistance to people displaced by the conflict in the Central African Republic.  The World Food Programme says that up to half a million people are estimated to need immediate food assistance, and this figure is likely to increase as the planting season has been disrupted by the conflict and displacement.  And there are more details available on the website of the UN refugee agency.


**Press Stakeouts Monday


I have a number of press conferences and stakeouts to tell you about.


On Monday, at approximately 11:25 a.m., at the new stakeout area on the first floor of the Conference Building, there will be a press encounter by President Ollanta Humala of Peru and Li Yong, the Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).


And then, at 12:30 p.m., here, in this room, which is S237, two-hundred and thirty-seven, Afaf Konja, the Spokesperson for the President of the sixty-eighth session of the UN General Assembly, will hold a press conference; and that’s on the forthcoming high-level meetings that will be taking place.


And then, at approximately 5:35 p.m. at the stakeout area of the Conference Building, there will be a press conference by President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus, and that will be following his meeting with the Deputy Secretary-General.


**Press Conferences Next Week


And needless to say, with the busiest week of the year approaching, we can expect many additional press conferences and stakeouts.  And we will be posting the schedules on the website of the Spokesperson’s Office and also they will be placed in the daily Journal.


And needless to say, you can always pop by the Office.  It’s on way to the briefing room here and you’ll be very welcome to ask me or my colleagues and we’ll provide you updates as we have them.


So, that’s what I have for you.  Questions, please?  Yes, Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  So, can you tell us anything about the recovery and details about Syria’s weapons programme?  How… what countries are going to be involved in this recovery, and then the destruction and so forth?  Has a plan for that yet been devised?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think this is, obviously, a topic which is very much the focus of attention, particularly… particularly at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and within the Office for Disarmament Affairs here at United Nations Headquarters.  I think it’s still a topic that’s under discussion, precisely how this will take place.  As you all know, OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, did say today that it’s received an initial disclosure from the Syrian Government of its chemical weapons programme and that disclosure is now being examined by the Technical Secretariat of OPCW, so we’re told.  So, obviously, there is work going on.  I know that the Secretary-General remains in close contact with the Director-General of OPCW, Mr. [Ahmet] Üzümcü, and that will remain the case in the days to come.  Yes, please, Karahman?


Question:  Martin, thank you.  Thank you, Martin.  Now, since we are on the topic, OPCW postponed its meeting from Sunday, as I know; if I’m wrong, please correct me.  They did postpone their meeting on Syria.  What’s the Secretary-General’s reaction to it?  And, since you mentioned this Cyprus… the President of Cyprus, you said, what… is going to have a press conference downstairs, is there anything happening there?  Because the President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus said that his people were very tired of living in isolation and that they wanted to have a solution, immediate solution to the problem.


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, Alexander Downer is working on that topic on behalf of the Secretary-General, and of course, the two communities are also working on that topic.  So, I think it’s self-evident that that would be part of the conversation that takes place between the President of Cyprus and the Deputy Secretary-General, but I’d think you have to ask him, the President, yourself, after that meeting, precisely what was being discussed.  Just to come back to the first part of your question, we’ve also seen that OPCW has announced that its Executive Council meeting has been postponed.  At this point, I don’t have any further information on when that meeting would now take place.  Obviously, as the Secretary-General has said, we don’t have time to lose on this matter and… and therefore, I am sure that… that this will take place before too long, so that the rest of the pieces can fall into place, sooner rather than later.  Other questions?  Yes, please?  And then Tim?


Question:  Thank you, Martin; also, about OPCW.  So, since they postponed the… the Executive Board meeting this Sunday, does it mean that the Security Council cannot adopt any more a resolution on next Monday, at least before the starting of the general debate?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think you’d have to check with the Security Council members precisely on the choreography that’s required, or the chronology that’s required.  But, clearly, there is a link between the deliberations and the decision that needs to be taken by the Executive Council at OPCW and the work that needs to be done in the Security Council.  But, I would ask you to refer to them on precisely what that entails.  Tim?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I have two questions about MDGs [Millennium Development Goals].  First, there are a group of Governments saying it is time to change the way poverty is measured and that maybe the $1.25-level is not enough, and I am wondering if the Secretary-General has any opinion on this.  And secondly, there is a recent report about world happiness, which has been… which some people have said is a UN report and some countries are not happy about their portrayal in it, and I wondered if you had any comment on that.


Spokesperson:  Well, we’re always happy up here, that’s for sure.  [laughter]  On the first question, I’d have to check further with my colleagues who deal specifically with the Millennium Development Goals.  And, of course, I think really the conversation here is less about the Millennium Development Goals and what comes next.  And that is something that is an intergovernmental process; in other words, the Member States of the United Nations, with input from civil society and from the Secretary-General and other advisers, they are working to shape what the Goals will look like after 2015.  And clearly, many Member States and others are saying that the focus on ending extreme poverty should remain, and should remain the core.  So, therefore, you could imagine that the discussions that will go on around that topic will hone in on the kind of area that you have mentioned, but if I have anything more specific from our side, I would let you know.  And, of course, as I mentioned, at heart, it is an intergovernmental process that is under way there.


With regard to the second question, we don’t have any specific comment on the report.  It is an independent report, which was written by a group of independent experts acting in their personal capacities.  Even if some of the authors have affiliations with the United Nations, any views expressed are their own and not those of the UN, its agencies or programmes.  Yes, please, Erol?  And then I am coming to Matthew.


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Two quick and short questions:  My friend Karahman asked about Cyprus, so, from the perspective of the United Nations, which problem is more difficult, Cyprus or the solution… finding solution for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia name dispute?  And number two, some of us really missed that, and for purpose of clarification, what is the position of Secretary-General, whether the new resolution on Syria should be in the framework of Chapter VII, whether with Article 41 or not, or Chapter VI?


Spokesperson:  On the first question, I don’t think there is much merit in trying to compare and contrast, simply to say that any long-running topics that the United Nations has been working on along with Member States ideally need to be resolved.  But, this is ultimately for the Member States, with assistance from the United Nations, where requested or required to come up with.  So, I don’t really have any further comment on that.  With regard to your second question, I would refer you to what the Secretary-General said in his remarks to the Security Council, which we circulated, and he spelled out his views there.  And I don’t have anything to add at this point.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, Martin, I want… thanks, I wanted to ask you about MINUSMA [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali] and this… the situation of the… of the Chadian peacekeepers who left their post.  You… you know… you’d said that the… that MINUSMA was looking into it, but that steps were taken to ensure… one, what was found about… about why they left?  And… and two, were some other contingents send there?  And on… and just relatedly, there is this question of the Mauritanians, who had said publicly that they would only serve in MINUSMA if they were allowed to serve along their border.  What’s been the… the result of that?


Spokesperson:  Well, as we have said, the Mission, the Stabilization Mission in Mali, is obviously aware that some members of the Chadian contingents left their base at Tessalit.  And the Chadian authorities, in collaboration with the Mission, are in discussions with the group to understand the reasons behind their action and, obviously, to find a rapid solution.  Needless to say, MINUSMA, the Mission, has taken appropriate measures to keep performing its mandated tasks.  If I get an update on precisely where we are beyond that, I will let you know, but this is what I have at the moment.


Question:  And could I just… one, because it was a big controversy when the… when the… the Chadians were incorporated into MINUSMA about the… that they are on the UN’s list of… of child soldier recruiters, there were… various things were said about steps being taken to… to bring them up to speed if they are… I don’t know, I… I don’t… expecting, so you would have it, but maybe if DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] can say what has been done since then with the Chadians and child soldier issue?


Spokesperson:  I’ll certainly look into that for you, Matthew.  Yes, Oleg?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Can you confirm please that Russia provided the Secretariat of the United Nations with the information regarding that rebels, Syrian rebels, took part in this Ghouta attack?  Have you received anything like that?


Spokesperson:  We have seen the media reports on the apparent handover of information by the Syrian Government to the Russian authorities in Damascus.  At this point, I can’t confirm that anything has been handed to us.  If that changes, I will let you know.  Yes, Masood?  And then I am coming to the back here.  Yes, please?


Question:  Yes, sir, on this latest report from Syria that some of the rebels are claiming that Al-Qaida’s leaders… Al-Qaida is now inside Syria, and is attacking them — from the rebel groups.  Have you had any confirmation of this particular report at this point in time?


Spokesperson:  Well, we have obviously seen the reports about the fighting taking place on the Turkish border, reports of clashes, in the media, but we don’t have any independent confirmation of precisely what has happened.  Obviously, what we have seen in Syria in the course of two and half years, and plainly, in the last few months, is an increase in the splintered nature of the fighting and also the confused nature of the fighting.  In other words, it is very difficult to ascertain what the different groups are, and so on, but it simply underscores the need to work even harder in the international community for a political solution.  And that is certainly what we intend to continue to do.


Question:  Obviously, these splinter groups are working at cross purposes with each other; that’s what is happening, and so, becoming… the situation becoming more confusing as to who is now using violence as means to, what do you call, attack the Syrian Government or otherwise.  How do you… how do… just, how do you somehow ascertain as where all these people are being killed by who?


Spokesperson:  Look, as I just said:  there has been a splintering and there has been an escalation in clashes between different groups, as well as between those groups and the Syrian Government forces and those loyal to them.  Of course, it is messy, and ultimately, those who suffer are Syrian civilians.  And they are the ones that we must keep uppermost in our minds as we try to end the bloodshed, end a military conflict and push for a political solution.  And that’s certainly what we intend to do.  Lakhdar Brahimi remains extremely active on this front, and as you know, there will be concerted efforts during the coming week or so here in New York to help to push that process forward.  I am going to the back first, and then I will come to you, Erol, and then Stefano, yes.  Yes, please?


Question:  I have a question.  As for the meeting between the Secretary-General and the President of Iran, can you add anything?  Has it been formalized, what matters they are going to discuss?  Do we know when it is happening, and is there going to be a stakeout or a more formal meeting with media afterwards and that’s it?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General himself said that there would be such a meeting, and that is being planned.  Precisely when, I cannot say at this point.  I think it unlikely, to be honest, that there would a stakeout for that particular bilateral meeting, given that there are many bilateral meetings — literally dozens of them.  Indeed, on Sunday, the Secretary-General has in excess of 20 meetings, and therefore, any readout or stakeout is probably likely to involve me, so you are stuck with me.  But, I will do my best to find out what happened in the meeting and what we can then impart to you.  We obviously understand the interest.  We signalled our understanding of the interest precisely by having the Secretary-General speak about his meeting with the Foreign Minister just yesterday.


Question:  But, we don’t know in advance what the topics are going to be, the media?


Spokesperson:  Well, again, I think given the topics that were discussed when the Secretary-General met the Foreign Minister, I think that would give you a foretaste of the kind of topics that will be discussed with the President.  I think I was coming to Stefano next, if I am not mistaken.


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Two weeks ago, the Secretary-General was in Saint Petersburg — you were there with him — but here at the UN, in front of the Security Council, Ambassador Samantha Power talked about the Security Council and she said, practically, that the system that we had in force since the end of the Second World War doesn’t work any more for the problems of today.  That’s what she practically said.  I would like to know, what was the reaction of Secretary-General to those statements?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think there is any specific reaction to this, Stefano.  I mean, I think everybody realizes that the world has changed since 1945; Security Council reform is a topic that has been on the agenda for a long time, and it is for Member States to decide the shape of the Security Council.  The Secretary-General agrees with all those who say that there should be a reform within the Security Council, with regard, particularly, to the membership structure, but it is for the Member States within the General Assembly to decide what that looks like, ultimately.  And, as you well know, the topic is under discussion, but I don’t think that you should expect any outcome anytime soon.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, thanks a lot, Martin, I… I wanted to ask… ask you about this… the allegation of… of… of rape by a MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] peacekeeper from Sri Lanka.  I am… the reason I am asking, and I understand you, you sent me a statement saying that they are looking into it and zero tolerance, there is a report in Haiti that… that… that… the… the… the… the alleged rapist, Mr. [KDH]Danishka, has been tak… moved from Léogâne to elsewhere, you know, with… I guess, within MINUSTAH.  So, there is some concern on people’s part of kind of the person either going back to Sri Lanka or in other… in some other way not being held accountable.  What’s the status as this investigation takes place?  What sort of, is the… is the legal status of… of… of… of the alleged perpetrator?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I don’t have anything to add to what we have already said, which is that this is under investigation, and therefore, we should not and cannot comment further.  I would simply add that any allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse are taken extremely seriously.  We have a zero tolerance policy for such things, and so, therefore, it is taken very seriously, but it is an investigation that is under way, and therefore, I am not going to comment further.


Question:  And could I also ask, I… I… I wanted to… in… in early August, you’d said that this report to the Secretary-General about… about the UN’s action and inaction in Sri Lanka in 2009 that he might have something to say on it this month.  And I… I… I understand, we are now in the middle of the month, but it is coming up to a pretty busy week, when do you anticipate…?


Spokesperson:  Well, you are very observant to note that it is the twentieth of September, and therefore, there are a few days to go.  I would simply say:  stay tuned.


Question:  And will he… did… is there a bilateral plan with President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa?


Spokesperson:  Stay tuned.  Okay, yes, please?


Correspondent:  Yes, I don’t know if you’ve talked about this before I got here, but my question is…


Spokesperson:  Let’s see.


Question:  …it says that the final analysis of detailed interviews with this report on the chemical weapons in Ghouta, that these were not available at the time of writing this, as a lot of other information was not available.  So, I am wondering, is there yet a date or understanding when there will be a final analysis and some report based on that final analysis of all the things that were not available when this was done?


Spokesperson:  Well, the report that was issued on Monday speaks for itself.  The findings are very clear and indisputable.  This is what the Secretary-General has said, this is what the report itself says.  What we have also said is that the team continues its work on the other pending allegations and that a final report will be compiled to be issued as soon as possible, and that will incorporate the material that is already in this report on the 21 August incident.  And, therefore, if there is additional material from within the team that was not yet available in the way that you have just described, then it will be for the team to decide whether that is necessary or appropriate to include in the final report that wraps up everything.  But, I cannot prejudge what the team, what those experts will do at this point.


Pardon?  Can you use the microphone, please?  Yes, I beg your pardon, yes, yes?


Question: Just to follow up on what she said, will that include the allegations which have being made by the opposition groups also, and what Russia has been saying?


Spokesperson:  Look, what we have said is that the team will be returning to continue its investigation into the allegations regarding Khan al-Asal and all other pending credible allegations.  And that’s where I would leave it.  And the last question, Oleg?


Question:  Thank you.  So, what is the state of negotiations with Damascus on returning the team back to Syria?


Spokesperson:  Well, the discussions take place and the team is actively preparing to go back as soon as possible, because this is something that they have committed to do, that they are already mandated to do.  And they intend to go back as soon as possible to be able to complete the work that I just outlined.


Thanks very much, have a good afternoon.  Thank you.


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